Back to the Future: Wired’s Next Generation and Reflections on Prometheus

Looking back to look forward, here’s the first instalment in a round-up of inspiring and enlightening talks from Wired Next Generation at London’s Tobacco Docks.  2015 offered up a hint of what’s to come in 2016.  Brace yourselves.  It’s techtastic!


Start early, said Jordan Casey, the teen from Waterford in Ireland. He taught himself to code aged 9 after convincing his grandma to buy him a book about building websites. He was playing a game called Club Penguin at the time and wanted to make his own video games. He learnt HTML code then decided he wanted to make apps – but he’d need a mac for that.  Jordan asked his parents for one, but they didn’t understand why he needed a Mac – he already had a perfectly decent computer.  Jordan’s entrepreneurial spirit extended to writing a fake letter from an ‘Apple executive’ to his parents explaining he needed a Mac to progress with coding and create apps.  They promptly bought said Mac.  Jordan then went on to create his first app, the game Alien Ball VS Humans, which shot to the top of the iTunes chart, with Minecraft slotted in below at number three. Not bad.

I watched the film Prometheus last night (better late than never) and it strikes me that humans messing with the aliens is a recurring theme and point of interest as we hurtle into our tech-driven future.  More on that later.

Jordan is currently growing his business, Casey Games, travelling around the world and encouraging teens to follow their dreams.  “If you know what you want to do, don’t wait!” he says.  Now 15, he admits his age means he’s not always taken seriously, particularly when trying to gain investment, but he is firmly focussed on the end goal and that motivates him to continue.  I was lucky enough to grab a snap with Jordan after his inspiring talk.

IMG_6202Jordan and I

Hyeonseo Lee offers a personal and moving insight into life under the oppressive North Korean regime. Following a life well into her teens of seeing people tortured and publicly executed for speaking out about injustice, she secretly watched TV broadcasts from neighbouring China on her television while shielding herself from the outside world in her bedroom, sealing the windows with thick curtains so that the flickering light couldn’t be seen.  By viewing Chinese TV broadcasts she realised that she had been brain-washed by her government and that oppression, human suffering and murder were wrong – until then they were a ‘normal’ part of daily life.  Looking around the audience at Wired Next Generation I see hundreds of bright eyes apparently trying to process the difficulty and horror Hyeonseo has experienced.  I also sense a collective understanding of how important her story is and that opportunity and freedom are the most important privilege and right that we have. Hyeonseo’s talk can inspire us to appreciate, aim high and share our stories.  Given that she had to unlearn 17 years of false propaganda-driven education in order to begin her tertiary education in South Korea and eventually share her experiences further abroad, her story is an extraordinary one.

IMG_6164IMG_6167Hyeonseo Lee

The propulsion of rockets in space hasn’t innovated much since the 1920’s and our current rockets are propelled chemically and electrically.  Ryan Weed’s company Positron Dynamics proposes a new type of fuel – energy generated by combining antimatter (positrons) and matter, which results in huge amounts of energy that if harnessed, could reduce the duration of a flight to Mars from months to minutes.  Currently it takes 10 years to get to Pluto.  Antimatter-generated energy would make this journey 1000 times faster.  By my calculation, that means the journey to Pluto would be reduced from 3642.5 days (87,420 hours) to 3.64 days (87.5 hours).  Voyager One currently takes 45 minutes to travel around the world but using this new energy source it would take 3 seconds.

In a nutshell, this means that with our existing understanding of physics we could use this antimatter-generated energy to travel to outer-space within our lifetime – you, me, our friends and family.  It’s exciting stuff and brings us another leap closer to outer space and life beyond Earth.  It also makes me think about sci-fi film portrayals of outer space. As mentioned, I watched Prometheus last night.  Set in 2089-2093 and with a 2.5 year fictional journey back to Earth from an unnamed planet (suggested to be in outer space) I wonder whether this ‘futuristic’ estimation is already vastly outdated.  In 2093 it will almost certainly take only days or weeks to reach outer space, based on antimatter energy calculations.  The overriding suggestion of impending doom and desolation brought by isolation and distance between planets will no longer hold up as outer space becomes accessible – It will be an extension of our lives on earth.

Ryan Weed explains the phenomenon of antimatter annihilation in his Jaguar sponsored video with Wired, filmed at the European Space Station. This is quite literally rocket science and we are going Interstellar!  I’m inclined to start designing a collection of space flight-ready jumpsuits right now (I am a huge fan of pilot, boiler and jump suits, as documented on my Instagram feed and that of my fashion label).

IMG_6236Ryan Weed WiredRyan Weed of Positron Dynamics – Wired 2015

janty-yates-Costume-Designer-PrometheusJanty Yates’ space suits for Prometheus:

Bradley L. Garrett is a social geographer and urban adventurer with a penchant for exploring the derelict and condemned.  He scours the underbelly of our great city, revealing forgotten spaces and initiating dialogues about how those spaces could be used in the future.  The spaces he has explored (without permission, he says adding to the thrill and excitement of the adventure) include 14 abandoned tube stations, see Aldwych (below) and Battersea Power Station.  The underground cavities of London tell us about the infrastructure of our city and how things function above ground.  He encourages all of us to go and explore (cue horrified faces on parents of eager teens in the audience).

IMG_6171IMG_6176Bradley’s images of power cables and an intact section of Aldwych station

20120604-rd7c121620120604-rd7c1063National Grid Excavation, East London:

imgl0047imgl0056Finsbury Park Reservoir, North London:

rd7c6542rd7c6510Aldwych disused Tube station, London :

See more incredible images from Bradley’s European-wide adventures on his website.

Stand by for the second instalment.  And Happy New Year!

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In Conversation With Hussein Chalayan: Gravity Fatigue, Celebrity “Designers” and Using Technology in Fashion

I have read many an interview with the world’s most credible and era-defining fashion designers and often they’re unrevealing.  Not so with Hussein Chalayan.

Against the backdrop of high-profile industry exits by Alber Elbaz (Lanvin) and Raf Simons (Dior) there is widespread recognition that all is not well in the top tier of the fashion industry. Who knew?  There were shockwaves throughout the press. Cathy Horyn’s interview with Raf Simons weeks before his exit (but published afterwards on Business Of Fashion) in which he confesses there is no time to explore and develop his designs (meaning that creating product quickly was his mandate) was a hint he was strained.  Alber Elbaz’ lamenting that we are not looking and listening with eyes and ears but rather consuming via technology, was also poignant. Hussein and I discuss these exits briefly and he admits he was so swamped working on his contemporary dance piece “Gravity Fatigue” that he had not had a chance to read the press response to the news.  Hussein says he believes Raf will be much happier, that he’ll have a life.  Hussein explains there is a point at which you have to ask yourself how much money do I need and what is it all for?

Hussein’s myriad of professional responsibilities include designing eight collections per year for Chalayan and seasonal collections for Vionnet, and in addition he is Head of Fashion at the University of Applied Arts, Austria.  This year he presented his aforementioned contemporary dance piece (almost two years in the making), opened his flagship store and gave a TED talk. He is full of energy, by his own admission. I realise he speaks with definite authority on the notion of overworking and keeping a balance between earning and living.  He said he sometimes thinks it’s a stupid thing to be busy  – although it’s a choice – and the quality of his life has been terrible this year because of his workload.

chalayan_13423chalayan_133891Chalayan-Exterior-Cropped_2Hussein Chalayan’s flagship is primarily a store, but will also host events, dinners and shows on a yearly calendar

Hussein Chalayan speaks at TED2015 - Truth and Dare, Session 11, March 16-20, 2015, Vancouver Convention Center, Vancouver, Canada. Photo: Bret Hartman/TED
Hussein Chalayan speaks at TED2015 – Truth and Dare, Session 11, March 16-20, 2015, Vancouver Convention Center, Vancouver, Canada. Photo: Bret Hartman/TED

The reason for my interview with Hussein is to discuss “Gravity Fatigue” and the use of technology in his work.  What unravels is an unexpected discourse on the fashion industry, why there are too many designers, how the fashion and technology landscape has changed over the past 21 years, celebrity “designers” and why fashion has such a problem giving credit to collaborators.

Hussein Chalayan’s latest incredibly ambitious piece is “Gravity Fatigue”.  A feat in movement, sound and costume, it was borne of dormant ideas Hussein has kept in files from the past decade and beyond. This makes complete sense given that the piece plays out as a series of scenes, each with it’s own style and narrative.  Hussein explains that the ideas are a combination of notes, sketches and subjects sparked by his interests. Citation of specific sources is impossible because the organic, evolutionary nature of his work, coupled with his broad interests, leading to an intersection somewhere between sociology, architecture, art and the world’s sciences.   Hussein sums up the collection of proposals for “Gravity Fatigue” as originating from a “World View” collated from his 21 years working in the creative industries.

hussein running orderThe “Gravity Fatigue” running order, from the Sadler’s Wells show program

What’s so ambitious about Gravity Fatigue, beyond the fusion of contemporary dance, costume and fashion design, is that Hussein directed the piece – a completely unorthodox approach in which most choreographers would refuse to partake.  “Usually the choreographer is King” states Hussein.  However choreographer Damien Jalet accepted this role reversal.  The creation of the piece began with four workshops (the exploratory phase) followed by two months of intense rehearsals giving rise to many a creative and technical challenge and many tears.


The fact that Hussein’s initial ideas and premises are those expressed in the final piece is testament to the dedication of his collective team, including Jalet and the thirteen dancers, to realise what he had envisaged for up to a decade or more in his thoughts, notes and sketches. Hussein explains the challenge ran so deep and so intense that he and the team are experiencing a severe anticlimax now that it has ended.  I ask if the process was filmed and suggest that it would have made an interesting documentary.  The rehearsals were filmed, says Hussein, so a documentary is still possible.

The collaborative nature of “Gravity Fatigue” required integration of costume design in the Chalayan studio with prototypes built by outside specialists, followed by movement back and forth between teams until the desired aesthetic and function were achieved.  It’s a dizzying thought, considering the number of people and specialisms involved.

There are scenes driven by technology, like “Secret Gliders” where the dancers recoil in response to the sharp movements of their draped dresses careering along the floor, orchestrated by invisible mechanics from below the stage.  This scene makes me think of wireless puppeteering – It’s a struggle and a fight between the movement of the body and the costumes, which are being manipulated by an invisible third object or force.  The piece as a whole is at its most captivating when this tension between the body, its movement and the costumes is ramped up.


HG4 2936HG4 2982Gravity Fatigue

I mention the whirling dervish scene, entitled “Body Split”, and Hussein explains that the dervish was not the initial trigger.  They looked at the pattern of movement of a dervish but the final movement was a hybrid of other ideas. It is one of the most impressive and moving scenes and gives rise to multiple silhouettes and epic sustained spinning by the dancers.

HG4 2491Gravity Fatigue

My thoughts jump to the final scene transforming from “Hong Kong Heights” to “Anticipation of Participation” – a group fabric and clothing orgy with dancers dipping their toes into a pool before intertwining and being sucked into a turbulent centre. Grabbing at each other and failing attempts to escape, it was a tense and disturbing close to a show of many ideas and concepts executed as a number of parts on multiple journeys, rather than a narrative whole.  Again, this is in bold contrast to the usual contemporary dance offering and demonstrates how Hussein Chalayan’s work innovates and pushes boundaries.

HG5 0336 HG4 3110 HG5 0461Gravity Fatigue

On the night, reflecting on the crowd and the lively chatter outside the theatre, it’s clear that “Gravity Fatigue” was a challenging piece.  By breaking free of the usual continual narrative of contemporary dance Hussein created a piece led by diverse and broad ideas, bringing a crowd of people who are appreciators of his fashion design to Sadler’s Wells – perhaps a first for many.  It’s important to reflect on how this can catalyse further cross-disciplinary work and stoke the fire for fashion designers to look beyond fashion, both in terms of inspiration and practice.  Hussein was amongst the crowd outside the theatre afterwards. It didn’t occur to me to tell him during the interview, but it was on seeing him talking with audience members that I understood he is open to sharing the story of his work and realised I had to request this interview.  It occurs to me at this point that Hussein’s work is so influential and important because it invites dialogue. It provokes questions and offers unexpected answers. We can consider the meaning and answer for ourselves.

We talk about the historical use of technology in Hussein’s work and he explains that it has been right for the given project at the time – not simply for technology’s sake.  I ask him about the differences between the industry now and when he began using technology in his garments.  In his opinion, the biggest difference is that when he began working on such collaborative projects, they made prototypes that were essentially proposals that required funding and additional R&D to become wearable clothing.  He feels that now it is easier to realise the final functional product after prototyping. This explanation reminds me of Golan’s Frydman’s comment, in the Fyodor Golan blogpost, that there is a tradeoff between truly innovative Fashion/Tech product creation and the provision of investment and time by technology collaborators.  It seems this is still a sticking point to some degree.

tumblr_mjawygVHp11rra1j7o3_500The technical underpinning of a dress from Hussein Chalayan’s SS07 collection

Hussein says he sometimes feels like a motivator in the field of technology and fashion design.  He believes that he, McQueen and other contemporaries have inspired a whole generation of designers to actually become designers.  When people see what he has done they realise what is possible and this is a catalyst for replication and further experimentation, which he says is a good thing.  It has led him to analyse what he has created, what worked, what didn’t work and what’s redundant.




We talk about collaboration and recognition in the fashion industry and how teams or collaborators are often not recognised or credited for their input. Hussein believes that the image or status of the project can take over due to the popularist energy around fashion.  This means that fashion is experienced as an event in itself and that comes first.  I ask if this is to fashion’s detriment.  He says yes and no.  Collaborators and contributors can publish their involvement on social media, meaning that their participation is recognised more now than it would have been in the past.

On the subject of digital media, Hussein points out that it has allowed us to find out about anything instantly. It’s more democratic, however it makes designers more vulnerable as their work is visible more quickly.  I ask Hussein if he thinks the democratisation of fashion through digital media is a good thing. He says it’s good and bad. It’s good in the sense that anyone can access a breadth of information.  It’s bad in the sense that information becomes disposable, having a cheapening effect.  It also doesn’t allow exploration, says Hussein, “you can just Google anything and you’ll find it, so you don’t research and appreciate it”.  We discuss the process of library-based research taught traditionally in fashion degrees where exploration is done through books in a broad sense before later developing, curating, fusing and refining ideas to bring a unique perspective –  the hallmark of individuality sought by designers aiming to express a personal point of view and grow throughout the design process.

e592b57220502c04dbc54360ea63bf85Sketch by Hussein Chalayan

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Images from Hussein Chalayan’s first print campaigns

I listened to Hussein’s recent interview with Dezeen.  He said there are too many designers, not that he is against the emergence of new designers, he simply states that to launch a brand you should have a point of view.  He feels there are too many designers creating similar fashion.  He also says that designers are entering fashion because of a perception of it being a cool thing to do and that they sometimes the lack dedication and work ethic to meet the demands of the industry.  As a teacher, I believe he has seen this first hand – I know I have.

In continuation, he asks “Why do we need so much product?” I suggest it’s to meet growing consumer appetites.  He points out that the appetite has been stoked by brands to create more and more product to boost sales and therefore fill coffers. In summary, it’s because of financial greed.  I agree that this cheapens the process of design and muddies the industry.

I ask Hussein “Why fashion?” – It’s his love of movement, of clothes and how they can alter and re-appropriate the body.  “I think the body is the ultimate cultural symbol in the world” he says.  It is Hussein’s belief that you can work like an artist when making clothes.  He sees it as a study and although he participates in the fashion discourse, he views fashion as a broader activity.  He does not see fashion as a frivolous thing sometimes brought about by celebrity “nonsense”, by which he means celebrities claiming to be designers overnight and cheapening the industry.  Why doesn’t that happen with other disciplines like architecture, he asks? You can’t become an architect overnight, so why a fashion designer?  Fashion is a hub with many sides, but most people know the tabloid or popularist side and for that reason it’s thought of as frivolous.  He cites fashion academics Caroline Evans and Judith Clark as spokespeople for the credibility of fashion and feels that if more people like Caroline and Judith were involved in the fashion discourse, the collective opinion of fashion may change and it’s view would be held alongside disciplines like architecture.  He believes fashion is as valid as any other discipline in which the discourse is more serious, it’s just that those who cheapen the fashion industry have a loud voice.

backstage_9 copybackstage_11 copy backstage_12 copy backstage_13 copy backstage_16Chalayan S/S16 

Interviewing Hussein Chalayan is like fashion nourishment.  It’s stimulating, illuminating and enlightening. Off the record we chatted about my recent marriage, work, fusing medical imaging and knitwear, our families and long overdue holidays.  Of course I thought of a dozen more questions I’d like to ask Hussein after I left the Chalayan studio, but will patiently add them to a filed list, neatly in keeping with Hussein’s penchant for filing ideas, notes and sketches for a later date.  But let it not be a decade or more before I have the chance to ask them.

Gravity Fatigue is going on tour.  Keep up to date with news, launches and events here>> Chalayan website Twitter and Instagram.

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